I Ran Away To The Circus

I’ve gone on an excursion. Yes, I ran away to the circus. Hey wait. Haven’t I fed you that line before. No? Maybe I kept it under wraps that I enjoyed a short foray with the Blackflip mob at Circus Oz in Melbourne last year.

While I did enjoy it, maybe endured should be the right word. No, persisted. At fifty – I never thought I’d be trying front flips from mini-tramps onto bloated crash mats or into deep pits of foam that envelop you whole.

Why do I tell you this? Because I’m at it again. I am in it up over my head as a temporary member of ‘club briefs (international)’. I am finally one of the boys. Or is that girls? I don’t know, but definitely playful, or should I say cheeky, souls of the well travelled revue as part of a first stage development for a new show.

I am here as part of the cast of director Fez Faanana’s new production titled Bred, and topping off my first full day in residence here in South Australia culminated in my attendance at Faanana’s actual Club Briefs International show. Briefs has been regaling audiences with death defying feats from an array of acts on a stage the size of a postage stamp since the Adelaide Fringe kicked off. The evenings events are MC’d by Faanana, who keeps the show rolling with a quick wit and equally lightning quick costume changes to alternately tease, flirt and gently jibe the audience whilst donning a succession of glittering gowns. My favourite interlude is Faanana’s alter ego ‘busy mum’ who buzzes around the stage in a bright red somewhat matronly outfit, with what looks like beaded epaulettes, to emphasise her busy mum shoulders flapping back and forth all in a tiz, in much ado about everything and nothing, all at once.

For it was Faanana’s articulate description of his idea for a new project which would involve flipping quotas of those normally considered ‘others’, and making that the basis of a different kind of mainstream show, which piqued my interest. When Faanana began to explain why he wanted to make the work, I was sold. Faanana explained he wanted to share insight into the conditions under which those who possess the ‘other’ perspective, sometimes known as the exotic factor, contribute to works that are not always controlled by the people whose lived experience generate them. This is despite the measures funding bodies have put in place to combat unethical cultural practice, like the guides for working with Indigenous peoples. For many culturally and linguistically diverse artists who are just grateful to be employed, especially post COVID, they know that their value-added currency lies in their alternative aesthetic, and often find themselves in absurdist situations in order to satisfy the latest lead artist’s creative whim.

As somebody who has had their fair share of dancing in near naked costumes holding everything from toy guns to a plate of charcoal briquettes when Faanana approached me with Bred I jumped at the chance.

The trick here, if I can call it trick, was to transform what usually feels like a dire betrayal of one’s culture in the moment, into an entertaining and thought provoking performative bit. The second trick, as I was to find out after reading the fine print on my itinerary after I had signed my contract, was to do it quickly, because after just five days of getting to know each other we were to perform a season of showings in progress. As someone who is used to faffing about, tossing up ideas for at least a week, the idea of fronting up to an audience on such short notice did nothing short of freak me out. This I noted to myself was another big difference between the world of abstract albeit independent contemporary dance and the circus, physical theatre and the burlesque world.

As the director on most projects I engage in these days, I forgot about the fast friendships made on group gigs. In the moment we put ourselves out there for the others, cast members become like family. I forgot that lifelong bonds are made in the hours on the floor, in the dressing rooms, in the pre and post show buzz.

To cut my rambling story short I still feel like a bit of a ring in as the other people in this cast possess mad skills. There’s Luke Hubbard, a former gold medal diver and tumbler who literally escaped those prior conservative trappings to join the Brief’s boys. In Luke’s Brief’s number s/he/they/them/their does things with a chair, wings and a blonde wig even Brittney Spears couldn’t dream of doing in her hey day. Dale Woodbridge-Brown deftly brandishes two lassoes, a whip and a sword as the cowboy clown also in Briefs whose costume comes complete with a cheeky pink zipper at the backside seam off his pants, providing another layer of curiosity as soon as it’s spotted. Lastly Thomas Fonua’s alter ego is Queen of Kong. She has her own House of Kong and merchandise to boot which attests to the strength of her following. As a former long term ADT cast member, I am humbled at Fonua’s and Hubbard’s and Woodbridge-Brown’s combined physical virtuosity and still pinch myself as to what the hell I am doing in this great company’s company. But what the hey, life’s too short for regretting the things never tried. So I’m trying.

Catch me next month for my run down on all things March Dance. I’ve missed a bit, but when I get back to Sydney I plan to more than make up for it.

Vicki Van Hout

Briefs Factory
Adelaide Fringe
Thursday 4 – Sun 7 March at 6PM